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IVF and Cancer: are they linked?

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Cancer is the most frequent cause of death among people aged 35-59

IVF and cancer, is a sensitive subject that worries many women who seek for infertility treatment. How are they linked? Do women undergoing IVF have increased risk of cancer? These are some of the questions that researchers have been trying to answer for several years now, making quite a progress.

According to worldwide scientific literature, the concept that IVF treatment and cancer are directly associated has started to faint. Studies suggest that women receiving medication for ovarian stimulation are not in danger, in terms of cancer, unless they were already prone to the disease either way, with or without IVF.

Cancer is the most frequent cause of death among people aged 35-59 while age of suffering the disease is constantly decreasing. Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological cancer in the western world. It accounts for 35% of all gynecological cancers in the UK, while in the US it is diagnosed in about 2000 women each year.

Currently, a well-documented study from the Institute of Child Health at University College London, reported that women undergoing IVF have over a third increased chances of developing ovarian cancer compared to other women.

However, scientists explain that it is more likely the higher risk of cancer to be attributed to other health issues of subfertile women instead of the fertility treatment itself. Dr Alastair Sutcliffe who led the study, commented that when it comes to IVF and cancer risk women treated for infertility have little to worry about.

The study, presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Baltimore, also found that female factor infertility (e.g. endometriosis) is related to increased cancer risk while male factor infertility did not seem to correlate with increased risk. Additionally, the number of IVF cycles did not seem to affect chances of cancer.

Collectively, according to researchers, the risk of ovarian cancer for women undergoing IVF in absolute numbers remains low (15 out of 10.000 women got cancer following IVF compared with 11 out of 10.000 in the general population). However, women with specific medical conditions like endometriosis should be treated with caution as they may be more likely to develop ovarian cancer following treatment.

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